Friday, July 30, 2010

Don Stefano Carusi on the Holy Week Reform of 1951-56: A Brief Assessment

As Shawn noted on Wednesday, Don Stefano Carusi, a priest of the Institute of the Good Shepherd, has recently written an analysis of the Holy Week reforms promulgated by Pope Pius XII between 1951 and 1956. The original Italian text was first posted on Disputationes Theologicae in March; an English version has just been made available this week on Rorate Caeli.

Don Carusi’s treatment of the subject should certainly be read by those who are interested in the liturgical changes of the pre-Conciliar period. Much detail on the reform is given from the notes of the committee that created it, which were recently published by Msgr. Nicola Giampietro; these notes provide a great deal of useful information concerning both the reformers themselves, and the sources (or putative sources) for the various changes that were made. Such information is particularly important because many of those who were involved in the new Holy Week would later participate in the post-Conciliar liturgical reform. Furthermore, as some of committee’s own members have noted, the Holy Week reform was the first substantial change made to the Roman Missal since the time of St. Pius V, and several features of the post-Conciliar liturgy were given a trial run, so to speak, in 1955. To give only one example, praying versus populum was first made a formal part of the Roman Rite in the new version of the blessing of palms.

After a brief description of each change, Don Carusi also offers a theological commentary on the meaning of the changes; this commentary is as a whole very well done, and should be carefully considered by the reader on a point-by-point basis. There are a few matters which might have been given greater attention; for example, the cutting back of the Easter prophecies from twelve to four is hardly mentioned. Likewise, he correctly notes that in the Missal of St. Pius V, the Cross remained on the altar throughout the Mass of the Presanctified, a custom which was altered by the 1955 reform. However, there were many medieval usages in which the Cross was not present for the first part of the rite, and was brought from the sacristy with a solemn procession, (as a general rule, with a far more solemn procession than the one instituted in 1955). However, Don Carusi’s critique in itself suffers nothing from these omissions.

Much of it is certainly written in an unabashedly polemical vein. For example, describing the newly introduced rubric that the people recite the Lord’s Prayer with the celebrant on Good Friday, he writes, first quoting the notes of the committee:

“The pastoral preoccupation with a conscious and active participation on the part of the Christian community” is dominant. The faithful must become “true actors in the celebration .... This was demanded by the faithful, especially those more attuned to the new spirituality.... The Commission was receptive to the aspirations of the people of God.” It remains to be proven whether these aspirations belonged to the faithful or to a group of avant-garde liturgists…

Likewise, in regard to the alteration of the rituals performed during the Exultet, “Thus it happened that one of the most significant moments of the liturgical cycle became a theater-piece of astonishing incoherence.”

The commentary makes it very clear that Don Carusi regards the Holy Week reform as a hastily made-up concession to the fashionable liturgical ideas of the 1950’s, and a gross impoverishment of the Roman Rite. On the other hand, given the circumstances of its implementation, and the fact that so much of it was jettisoned by its own creators in the making of the post-Conciliar liturgy, it is difficult not to share his opinion in a great many respects.

There is one passage in particular which should be noted, not only for its own sake, but for the important shift in the methodology of liturgical scholarship which it represents. It is undeniably the case that at the time the Holy Week reform was introduced, many of the “known facts” of liturgical scholarship were in reality merely assumptions or conjectures. Such a “fact” was the origin of the Good Friday ritual known as the Mass of the Presanctified, in which a consecrated Host was incensed as at Mass, and then the Fraction ritual of Mass performed with It into a chalice of unconsecrated wine. It was the common opinion of liturgical scholars that this rite derived from “a belief in the Middle Ages that the commingling of the consecrated bread… alone in the wine was sufficient to consecrate even the wine… once the Eucharist was studied more profoundly, the lack of foundation for this belief was understood. But the rite remained.”

Don Carusi points out that this opinion was shared by the committee, and provided the basis of the reform, in which the entire rite of the Presanctified was eliminated. (I have here given his citation of it from their notes.) He also points out that this idea is a mere conjecture that rests on no historical foundation. In addition, he correctly notes the resulting impliction that, according to the reformers, “the Roman Church fell into error to the point that she made it (i.e. the error) part of the liturgy with this precise theological view in mind… In this context, one would be affirming that the Roman Church, conscious of the serious error, did not wish to correct it.”

What Don Carusi has written here is not just an argument for or against a particular form of the rite of Good Friday. It is more importantly a statement of the principal that any reform of the liturgy must be based on sound historical research, rather than guesswork, and must take into careful consideration all of the theological implications of what is done. (He is not, of course, the only liturgical scholar to do so, and apply this principal to his work.) I consider that the broader implications of what he writes on this and similar topics are such that even those who may not be particularly interested in the Holy Week reform should read his critique for a good understanding of how liturgical research, and liturgical reform, ought to be accomplished.

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